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CRC Calls For Independent Police Complaints Body

Police

THE Constitutional Reform Commission has suggested that there should be an independent Police Complaints Commission capable of suspending, disciplining and prosecuting, if necessary, but also wants the Police Commissioner to retain existing powers to exercise powers of discipline over officers.

Today, THE VOICE continues serializing the Commission’s report with another passage from Chapter Seven:

The Police Service
In 1965 the Police Act and the Police Regulations became law in Saint Lucia. These two pieces of legislation were to provide for the organization, administration, duties and discipline of the Police Force.

The Commissioner of Police is empowered to deal with the hearing and determination of charges or complaints against members of the Police Force, below the rank of Inspector. He is also empowered to delegate these powers to other senior officers. In summary the Police was given power to hear and determine complaints against their colleagues. Needless to say as the years went by, the people of Saint Lucia became very frustrated with the situation and started to voice their frustration.

In order to curb the spate of discontent from the public against the members of the Police Force, the Police Complaints Act No 6 of 2003 was passed. The Act provided for the receipt, investigation and determination of complaints by the public against the police. It made provision for the establishment of a Complaints Unit within the Police Force and for the establishment and organization of a Police Complaints Commission.

Subsequently, in August 2004, the Complaints Unit and the Complaints Commission were established.
The primary functions of the Complaints Unit are as follows:
“Investigate complaints made by members of the public against police officers and referred to it by the Commission.”
Resolve the said complaints in accordance with the Act.

Finally to submit on a quarterly basis a progress report on the work done and eventually a final report on all investigations carried out by the Commission and the Commissioner of Police.”

The Complaints Commission on the other hand, had to receive complaints on the conduct of any police officer; monitor the investigation of a complaint by the Police Complaints Unit so as to ensure that the investigation is conducted impartially; report to the responsible Minister (for Home

Affairs and Internal Security) from time to time or at his request; and to review reports from the Police Complaints Unit and may in such a case conduct an investigation of its own accord.

A perusal of the Police Complaints Act reveals that the Complaints Commission only plays an advisory role. It has no authority to either discipline police officers or establish departmental policies within the Police Force. The Commission is also unable to provide complainants with the results of disciplinary action recommended.

Notwithstanding and not surprising, the public continues to complain about the work of the Unit and the Complaints Commission. It is regarded as a waste of time for, in the final analysis, it is the same policemen who are investigating their colleagues. However, there appears to be some breakthrough, a little light through the tunnel. By Cabinet Conclusion No. 1243 of 2008, Cabinet approved the appointment of two independent adjudicators one for the North and the other for the South of the island.

The Commission received and considered a submission suggesting that there should be an independent police complaints authority because what currently exists underminds public confidence as investigations are carried out by police officers appointed by the Police Commissioner. In the Commission’s view this practice represented a fundamental weakness in the current system.

Commissioners supported, in principle, the submission that there should be an independent police complaints office. If Saint Lucia is to re-engineer its police service, it has to ensure that an independent capacity exists with constitutional protection, for the conduct of investigations against errant officers whose treatment of civilians can have the capacity to damage the confidence and reputation of the police service in the eyes of the public.

In the view of the Commission, a modern police service is one in which the police will have confidence to protect and serve their communities and the nation. In order to instillthat trust and confidence, the police service must have the capacity to withstand independent scrutiny. It should have the power to suspend, discipline and prosecute if necessary, officers found to be in breach of their oath to uphold and preserve the law. To this end, an independent Police Complaints Commission is an absolute necessity. The powers being recommended for the police Complaints Commission are in addition to that which are already vested in the Commissioner of Police.

Recommendations
With respect to the Police Service, the Commission recommends the following:
(110) There should be an independent Police Complaints Commission.
(111) The Police Complaints Commission should be capable of suspending, disciplining and
prosecuting, if necessary.
(112) The existing powers of the Police Commissioner to exercise disciplinary control over officers should be retained.
(113) The Police Act and Police Regulations should be modernised.

Scrutiny of Service Commissions
There was a submission that there should be a Parliamentary Committee to oversee the performance of Service Commissions and that the Opposition should be given the chairmanship of this committee with no political majority on the committee.

The Commission had mixed views on this submission. It was noted that the Service Commissions were established to insulate public servants from political influence. Some Commissioners argued that this would have the net effect of challenging the integrity of an independent Service Commission to guarantee oversight and maintain that independence. A counter view was that a Parliamentary Committee would serve to guarantee and maintain that independence. Yet another view was that it was unreasonable for public bodies like the PSC to remain untouchable.

Some Commissioners felt that the problem of non-performance within the Public Service is a problem of management within the Public Service and not an indictment of the Commissions.

As part of the process of re-engineering the Public Service, the question of some kind of scrutiny of service commissions may be required if their performance is to move the public service forward.

The ethos of the service commissions in the Commonwealth Caribbean is one in which their independence is designed to protect the public servants from the politicians.

The challenge here is to determine how well the service commissions have worked. The tradition has been to treat service commissions as the “sacred cows” of the Constitution and to place them above the level of scrutiny. However, as bodies charged with making strategic decisions about public bureaucracies, there have been questions asked about their efficiency. Scrutiny would be designed to probe their efficiency and effectiveness as opposed to their independence.

The Commission was persuaded by this latter view and therefore supported the submission calling for the creation of a Parliamentary Committee to oversee the administration of service commissions. In the Commission’s view, it is important that the Parliamentary Committee’s role be restricted to the proper and efficient functioning of the service commissions but not scrutiny of its decisions. Some Commissioners nevertheless expressed their concern that this would compromise the independence of the service commissions by exposing them to the risk of political interference.

Recommendations
With respect to scrutiny of Service Commissions, the Commission recommends the following:
(114) Service Commissions should be required to submit annual reports to Parliament.
(115) Service Commissions should be subject to scrutiny by a Parliamentary Committee as to their administrative and management functions with a view to examining their efficiency and use of resources allocated.

The Director of Audit
The Commission reviewed the section in the Constitution relating to the Director of Audit. The
Commission felt that the powers of the Director of Audit were clearly spelt out under Section 90.

Notwithstanding that, the Commission felt that this office should be strengthened in relation to existing duties and responsibilities. Additionally, in the Commission’s view, the Director of Audit should be answerable to Parliament. This would introduce a measure of accountability that would contribute to the overall thrust by the Commission to re-engineer the public service through the use of parliamentary scrutiny as a new device to promote greater efficiency and delivery of service.

One submission was that there should be a title change from Director of Audit to Auditor General.
The Commission was referred to other jurisdictions where such a change had been effected. The argument advanced is that there is a perception that the office of Director of Audit was a department of a broader office not realizing that it had overriding jurisdiction over all Government offices. A further argument was that many departments were headed by a Director and the perception was that the Director of Audit was just another such Director and not seen as a senioconstitutional position, which it is. The Commission felt that the arguments advanced for a namechange were sufficiently compelling.

Recommendations
With respect to the Director of Audit, the Commission recommends the following:
(116) The Constitution should make it clear that the Director of Audit is answerable toParliament.
(117) A name change from Director of Audit to Auditor General and the new office should bestrengthened accordingly.

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